In June 2017 we returned to Tuscany, which continues to deserve its wonderful reputation for wine and gastronomy. It’s so hard to believe that just thirty years ago, this region was one of the poorest in Europe, with patchy tourism and a wicker basket reputation for its wines. How things have changed….
Our tour kicked off in great style as we headed out for dinner to La Taverna di San Guiseppe – one of Siena’s top restaurants.
A glorious meal ensued: antipasti consisting of delicate potato soufflé, truffled mushrooms and a sausage, onion and cream cheese puff pastry were followed by delicious ribollita and then it was onto the pasta – pappardelle with a Florentine ragu. Wild boar cooked in milk, bay leaves, rosemary and sage was superb and the ricotta and mascarpone tart was as light as a feather. All washed down with a Rosso di Montalcino and a Chianti Classico.
Montalcino and Montepulciano
On Thursday we headed south of Siena. Some of Italy’s best known and highest quality wines can be found here with Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano to the fore. Our first stop was the wonderful Poggio San Polo estate. With the most extraordinary views of Monte Amiata and the surrounding vineyards this is an idyllic setting. The estate is owned by the Allegrini family, of Valpolicella fame, and is run with the same meticulous care. We were shown round by winemaker Riccardo Frattone and a glorious walk through their vineyards was followed by a look at their highly innovative cellar. The whole winery is aiming to be as carbon neutral as possible and it was full of innovative solutions to minimise energy expenditure.
We then explored their range: Rubio 2015, Rosso di Montalcino 2014, Brunello di Montalcino 2012 and the ultimate expression of top class Brunello – the 2010 Riserva, which was a wonderful treat.
From Poggio San Polo it was a short hop to the delightful Boccondivino restaurant for a whirl through their tasting menu. The meal was as good as any I can remember on tour. Perfectly presented, outside in glorious weather, delicate sized portions that allowed us to experience a wonderful mix of Tuscan cuisine without feeling too full. We drank a first for me – a Tuscan Pinot Grigio which was a rich, full bodied oily style and some very quaffable Rosso from Montalcino.
Then it was off to Montepulciano and the Salcheto winery.
Salcheto have a unique winery with no connection to the main power grid. Solar power generates most of their energy and incredible reflective panels draw light down into the cellars. It means they can’t work after sunset but I didn’t hear anyone complaining.
They are fully organic and biodynamic and after tasting a slightly curious Rosato and red, we moved onto some top class Rosso di Montepulciano and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
On Friday we headed forty five minutes north to Barberino Val d’Elsa. This is an incredibly picturesque area and ticks all the boxes for rugged and beautiful scenery. Our first stop was at Isole e Olena and we were greeted by owners Marta and Paolo de Marchi. Their family have owned the estate since the mid 60’s and it is now one of the admired Chianti Classico estates with their Cepparello a highly regarded Super Tuscan. Paolo gave us a detailed account of the social history of the area and its rapid transformation in the 70’s. Paolo was passionate, funny and intensely knowledgeable and we learned a lot in a short time. The tasting was terrific as we experienced superb chardonnay, high quality Chianti Classico and then a series of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and their £150 Gran Selezione. The Vin Santo at the end was sublime.
I have had the pleasure of visiting Felsina on a number of occasions and they never fail to please. We savoured a delightful tasting lunch as we paired Chardonnay, Chianti Classico, Classico Riserva and their Super Tuscan Fontalloro with superb antipasti, pasta and then rounded it all off with some delicious Cantucci biscuits and their stunning 2006 Vin Santo.
As many people were on their first trip to Tuscany it seemed a shame not to take a brief stop in this historic town with its famous towers on Saturday morning. From there, we headed over to the Torciano estate. This property dates back to 1720 and is still run by the same family and have developed a very exciting proposition with vineyards in Chianti, Montalcino and San Gimignano.
Two family members hosted our visit – Lillo and Leo and I have to say the tasting lunch was a combination of delicious food, raucous laughter and an eclectic mix of wines from all over Tuscany. Leo had developed an Italianesque Carry On humour that added a rather unique touch and made it quite unlike any wine tasting we have experienced on tour.
It was great fun, the wines were good and it made for a bit of light relief from the intensity of the top estates we had visited in the previous days.
Our final dinner was at Tar-Tufo restaurant and over four hours a truly wonderful Tuscan tasting menu unfolded.
Antipasti, stuffed squid, pici pasta, a seabass and crab pastry, lamb cutlets, cheese and a sumptuous chocolate cake were a superb finish to the tour.